Friday, December 30, 2011

Beef, our house, and the new year

Bridget's and Molly's calves are now beef -- or something between veal and beef. They're not technically veal because veal is supposedly one hundred percent milk-fed, and these boys spent their whole lives on pasture nursing and eating grass the way nature intended. The butcher at the locker said that they'll have more flavor than veal but not as strong as beef.

I'm thinking this is probably what our ancestors thought of as veal. After all, historically animals would have been raised on grass with their mother. Today's veal comes from anemic calves that are fed an unnatural diet of only milk, and they're confined to small pens. It would be really interesting to find a book written more than a century ago on the raising of cattle. I'm sure one is out there. I just have to find it. After all, this really makes perfect sense. Calves are born in spring and grow up eating fresh pasture and their mother's milk. They are never castrated and are butchered before winter sets in so you don't have to start feeding hay.

Happy birthday, house!
It's hard to believe that we moved in to our house seven years ago tomorrow -- not because time flies, but because it is still not finished. I can't believe that we have lived here for seven years and have not finished the stairs or all of the trim around the windows and doors. Then again, on a farm there is always so much other stuff to do. And the needs of your animals and garden don't wait. Stairs and trim don't seem very important in the grand scheme of life.

Happy New Year!
Our first goats will be arriving around Jan. 12, and Bridget and Molly will be calving again in April. And my next baby -- er, book, called Ecofrugal -- will be hitting bookstores in the fall! I hope everyone has an outstanding 2012 where all of your homesteading dreams come true!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Worry, doubts, and hay in winter

You don't have to know me very well to know that I worry a lot -- probably far more than is good for me. I once read that worrying too much is just as bad for you as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. That just gave me one more thing to worry about! I'm doing everything that is supposed to be good for me -- except this worrying thing! But I digress.

What I really want to write about today is the hay situation. Every year I worry about hay -- having enough hay to last until the pastures are growing again, as well as having good quality hay that will keep the animals well nourished and healthy. I wish I understood how hay that looked great in the middle of summer doesn't look so great in winter. I bought hay from two different farms this year, from three different cuttings. They all looked great when I bought them, but now I'm having my doubts about two of them. One is so stemmy that the goats won't eat it unless I feed them in a big group -- then, of course, they all want to get it so no one else does. I love it when goat peer pressure works for me. If there are only three or four goats in a group though, they look at me like, "You expect us to eat THIS?"

We only got 300 bales of the really good stuff, and the goats have already gone through half of that. I'm thinking we'll save the other half for when the does kid. In the meantime, we'll start feeding the stemmy stack. The other stuff smells kind of like pickles. The cattle are eating it though, so I suppose I'll continue to feed it to them. No, I have not sold any of them yet, in spite of what I said.

Every time I go out there to feed them, I tell myself I need to make an appointment at the locker to take in the two young bulls for processing. That would reduce the hay usage quite a bit. But that little red bull is just such a beautiful vibrant red, and he's polled. Honestly, I didn't try very hard to sell him as a bull. I only advertised in a couple of places. But if I sell a bull for breeding, it really should be his father. I'm not sure what kind of meat we'd get from an intact 2-year-old bull, even though I was mentally turning him into steaks the last time we had to bring him home from a neighbor's place a few months ago.

I go through this every winter, even though every summer I feel like I'm buying more hay than ever before. The increase in the cattle population is a big part of the problem. I really did buy more hay than ever before. The front of the big barn was full -- that's a 30-foot by 30-foot area -- as well as another area in the smaller barn. I think I wound up buying about 900 bales total. It's only December, and there is already an open area in the barn that is way bigger than it should be by now.

But the only smart thing to do is to butcher those two bull calves. It is not smart to buy hay in winter. It's always way more expensive than summertime because the hay men know that if you're buying in winter, you're desperate. And the other problem with the hay disappearing so fast is that we do have a lot more goats than normal. Since we were blessed with 29 bucklings this year, only about two-thirds of them were sold as bucks for breeding or wethers (castrated males) as pets. There are about a dozen wethers out there that are also eating a lot of hay.

A few years ago, I didn't think I could ever eat a goat, but that was a few years ago -- long before I found myself standing in the barn wondering how I was ever going to feed all these animals until next spring. Mike butchered one of the wethers a couple of months ago, and the meat was quite good. He really needs to butcher more of them. But we've been procrastinating.

When we first moved out here, I used to feel like the queen of some small country. Coming from a typical suburban lot, our 32 acres out here felt like a small kingdom, and I was suddenly responsible for the lives of a lot of animals. I didn't initially feel comfortable being the one who decided when an animal's life would end. I'm not sure I'll ever be completely comfortable with that idea, even knowing that I am making a responsible decision when it comes to allocating our resources, such as pasture space and hay. But goats and cows have to give birth if you want milk. And as good stewards of our land and caretakers of our animals, we have to have a plan for those babies. If they are not sold, the logical place for them is on the dinner table.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Just right!

Tonight's dinner was one of those that reminded me why we do what we do. We had shepherd's pie made with meat from the spring lambs. It had a deliciously mild lamb flavor, and I could have eaten until I painfully regretted it, but luckily my son came out with the left-over containers and started putting it away.

After trying a couple of times, we finally got this one right. The first time we butchered lambs, they were a year old and had been castrated. They were 25 to 30 pounds, hanging weight, which is not big.  I remember the woman at the locker saying, "Those chops are going to be dinky!" But they were yummy! We did that for a couple of years, but I knew that without testosterone, they just don't grow that fast.. Last year, we butchered some intact yearling rams, which were 45 to 50 pounds, but had a strong lamb flavor. I was not crazy about that. In fact, the more I ate it, the more I disliked it, and the past few months I've been saying that we should sell the sheep. Then we butchered the spring lambs, which were only about six months old and had not been castrated. Jackpot! They weighed 24 to 29 pounds hanging weight, which is about the same as the yearling wethers, but we didn't have to feed them over the winter. And the flavor of the meat was, I think, even more mild than the yearling wethers.

This is a win-win for the the humans and the rams. They don't have to get castrated. We don't have to feed them over the winter. And we get just as much delicious lamb as if we had put them through that unhappy ordeal and spent the money on feeding them hay over the winter.

I announced at dinner tonight that we'd be continuing to raise sheep on Antiquity Oaks. I'm glad I didn't have time to advertise the flock and sell them all. I'd have been terribly disappointed if I had tasted this delicious meat and realized I couldn't have more next year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This-n-that and free books

As I am typing away at my computer working on The Ecofrugal Handbook, which will be published next fall, my goats are starting to show off their pregnant bellies, and I'm getting excited about the babies that will be arriving starting in January. Due to all my traveling this fall with the Homegrown and Handmade book tour, I wasn't here enough to catch everyone in heat in a timely manner, so kids will be making their debuts between January and April.

A couple days ago, we put James the American Guinea Hog back in the walnut grove with Julia and their babies, which means we can expect our next litter of piglets at the end of March. As I suspected, Julia weaned her babies somewhere around three or four months. Most people separate the piglets from mama around two months because they say the sow starts to lose too much weight, but the babies were two months old right when the acorns and hickories started to fall, so Julia actually started gaining weight about that time!

I'm sad that I'm down to one pair each of the silver and gold Sebrights, the bantam chickens that I added to the homestead this past spring. I don't know whether it was coyotes or coons, but whatever it was, the bantams are almost gone. I am thinking about trying to catch them so I can lock them in the barn in hopes of being able to raise some chicks in the spring. They may be small in stature, but they are big in taste. We butchered the extra roosters in the summer when they were around four months old. Each one dressed out right around one pound, so we split them in half and grilled them. Sebright now ties stew hens as my favorite meat from the farm. I didn't realize a grilled chicken could taste that amazing!

If you want to chat about making Christmas gifts or turkey left-overs or anything homegrown or handmade, you can head over to my publisher's book club, and if you join the conversation, you'll be automatically entered to win a copy of my book. The drawing will be on Dec. 13.

If you have been thinking that you would like to give a copy of H&H to a friend or loved one, you can click over to the Homegrown and Handmade blog, leave a comment before Friday midnight, and be entered to win.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'Tis the season for . . .

 We harvested lots of winter squash this year!
photo by Lynn Stone
From the first year that we moved to Antiquity Oaks in 2002, we began to live in rhythm with nature, benefiting from our own labors, and feeling the consequences of labor lost. Of course, we weren't able to grow a lot of our own food the first few years, but as each year passed, we have learned to grow more and more. Today the main things we buy at the store are staples like flour, vinegar, sugar, salt, coffee, and cocoa. Sometimes I'll pick up something special like avocados or bananas that we don't grow, but the fact is that we grow so much of our own food now that we really don't have to buy much. It seems frivolous to buy anything when we have plenty of food at home to feed ourselves delicious and healthy meals.

We eat seasonally, which means tons of fresh fruits and vegetables through the growing season, including greens in our winter garden. I actually enjoy it because we eat so much when something is in season that we are pretty happy when the season is over. Then we start to crave it over the months when it is not available, and we are once again ecstatic when it is in season again.

Unfortunately there are some years when we wind up without a favorite food because of a crop failure or because of our own failure to actually plant the crop. That was the case with peas and okra this year. We never managed to find the time to get either one planted. You can be assured they'll be on the top of the planting list next year because I really miss my fried okra and my raw peas.

When we first moved out here, we were vegetarians, but even after we started eating meat, it was a pretty rare event because we only butchered extra roosters or rams or old stew hens. As we've added more meat animals to the farm though, and as our flocks and herds have increased, we are finding ourselves with more meat, and like the vegetables and fruits, the variety changes from year to year. Last year we had lots of pork and chicken. This year we have lots of turkey, lamb, and goat.

I can see where some people in our modern world would not like this because Big Biz has done such a good job of convincing us that not only can we have what we want, when we want it, but we should have everything we want, when we want it. Over the years I've begun to see the flaw in that logic, and not simply because so many people wind up in debt based upon that attitude.

When something is always available, we lose the concept of gratitude. When was the last time you got really excited at the grocery store? On the contrary, most of us find it a boring chore. You always know what's going to be there. You expect it. You depend upon it. You take it for granted. On the other hand, I get excited and am immensely grateful every February when our chickens start to lay eggs again because we've usually been without them for a couple of months. In fact, I get excited and grateful about every food when it comes into season. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

You also learn to live with the rewards and consequences of your actions or inaction.  As another wise person once said, you harvest what you sow. The funny thing about these adages is that today we've lost touch with their origins. If you fail to plant something (or weed and water), you won't be harvesting it.

Variety is the spice of life, as someone else once said, yet most of us can easily fall into a routine, doing and eating the same things day after day. Being presented with a variety of foodstuff makes me use my noggin and get creative. This year, I am learning to cook with goat meat. I used to think that I'd never do that, but that was before our does blessed us with 29 bucklings! We usually castrate most of the boys and sell them as pets, but there simply are not that many people who want pet goats.

When it comes to eating meat, I'm pretty sure that nature is giving us what we need in the right proportions. I get a little worried about people who think they should be eating bacon on a daily basis or liver ever week. If you are eating whole animals, you can't do either of those things because there isn't that much bacon or liver in an animal. When we butcher a whole pig, the bacon is only a small part of it, so if we spread out our bacon consumption, we're eating a pound of bacon for about every ten pounds of other pork. I suspect that if we decided to only consume our own lard and butter, rather than buying sunflower oil, we'd probably all lose another five pounds because our consumption of fried food would go down.

It's amazing how much we've learned since moving out here. I didn't know any of this a decade ago. I only knew that I wanted to eat more organic food, and I assumed that exercise would be a natural benefit of growing our own food. I had never even heard of the concept of eating seasonally. Today, however, I can see a lot of wisdom in this natural lifestyle.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Hello, Milwaukee!

Today was very different than one of my usual days. Katherine milked the goats and did all of the other farm chores, while I packed my bags. I drove to Milwaukee, checked into my hotel, dropped off lambskins at the tannery, drove downtown to meet a reporter, and then drove to Alice's Garden, an urban community garden in the middle of the city. The reporter thought it would be fun to do a recorded radio interview in the garden along with garden director Venice Williams. And it was a blast! Venice met me at the gate with a big hug, and we chatted about gardening and cooking and life like we'd been friends forever.

Unfortunately most of the conversation centered around me and Homegrown and Handmade, but I wish there would have been time to learn more about the garden. On this two acres, about a hundred families and a dozen community organizations cultivate a lot more than just carrots and lettuce. They're growing a community and nourishing healthy habits. They have picnic tables and a labyrinth and classes in yoga, cooking and making tea from your homegrown herbs, and they provide mentors for gardening novices. They even have classes for moms with babies and young children. It's everything I've always wanted to do, but it's 200 miles from home, so not terribly practical. The people of Milwaukee, however, are lucky to have such a special place in their city!

Tomorrow morning, I'll be on The Morning Blend. In the evening, I'm doing a book signing at Boswell Books, and Wednesday night, I'll be doing a book signing at Tribeca Gallery Cafe in Watertown, WI. And on my way home Thursday, I'll drop off 18 bags of washed fleeces at the fiber mill so they can be carded and turned into roving. Six of the bags will also be spun into yarn. Once I'm home, I need to help everyone else finish getting the farm ready for winter, which means cleaning out the barn, trimming goat hooves, giving the bucks their copper and selenium supplements, picking dried beans and shelling them, creating new low tunnels in the garden, selling a goat and three sheep to a couple different people who've already made appointments to come by, and keeping a close eye on the last two does that need to be bred this fall so I don't miss their next heat.

But right now I'm just hoping that my skin can survive three days with this hotel soap because I forgot to pack my homemade goat milk soap.

Friday, October 28, 2011


I spent most of today working on my next book. Mike took four of the spring lambs to the locker to be turned into lamb chops. And Katherine walked around the farm taking pictures.

Clare the la mancha grazing

A duck on the pond

Sheep in the pasture

Happy fall!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Corporate America can kiss my pastured pig!

Wall Street is broken beyond repair. Every time the government comes up with a new regulation, a team of corporate lawyers simply figures out how to get around it. And the Supreme Court is not helping us at all. I really can't imagine how the corporate system can be fixed, so we simply need to opt out.

If you're wondering where all of this is coming from, I had a book signing today in Champaign, and it happened to overlap with an Occupy Champaign march. Some people came to the book signing following the march, and when others at the bookstore heard about it, they said they wished they'd known so they could have attended. Now I feel like I should have connected the dots sooner, but at least it all finally came together for me today.

I have been supremely annoyed at the fact that we bought a furniture set for our deck a year ago, and this summer it completely disintegrated. I'm guessing that maybe those folks in China forgot to spray the UV protectant on it or something like that, so it just started falling apart after less than a year -- half of which was spent in the shed (winter) where it was not even exposed to sunlight! And the paint is peeling off of the metal parts. Basically, it's garbage -- and it was not cheap! But like most people, I've been kind of whiny about the whole thing. Well, today I've decided that's the straw that broke this camel's back because I'm not supporting Corporate America any longer.

Over the past year, ever since I started on the adventure of writing Homegrown and Handmade, I've been meeting a lot of very cool people. One man today was talking about how his family wanted to grow their own food, in part to simply opt out of the corporate scene. One of the families I visited in Chicago last winter was talking about how our society needed to abandon corporations and go back to the idea of small businesses serving local communities. If you are a local business owner, and you make things that don't last, your business does not last.

Of course, a lot of people will say that we can't do this in today's world, and of course, Corporate America wants you to believe that. They've spent the better part of the past century convincing Americans that "you deserve a break today," and that your time is too valuable to do things like cook, clean, or build or grow things. As you know, I opted out of the industrial food system a few years ago. I didn't do it overnight though. Lack of instant gratification paralyzes a lot of people. They think it's all or nothing. Well, if that were true, then nothing would have ever been accomplished in this world, because everything requires practice, patience, and persistence. My first vegetable garden did not yield any edible food, but I kept trying, and today we grow most of our own produce.

So, no more whining -- and I'm including myself in that admonition! I've been whining about that furniture set that's falling apart on my deck, but no more. Whenever I decide to replace it -- and it may be a really long time because we don't NEED it -- it will be built by someone I know. If Mike doesn't have time to build one, then I'll get a local craftsperson to do it. Surely there is someone around here that knows how to use a saw and a hammer, and I bet they'd be willing to do it for about the same amount of money I paid for this "Made in China" set that fell apart after less than a year.

I'm drawing the line in the sand right here and right now. I'm not buying anything else from Corporate America if there is any way to get it locally. I don't have all the details worked out yet, but the important thing is to get started. Whenever I find myself thinking that I NEED something that is made by a corporation, I will ask myself (1) do I really NEED it, and (2) can I find someone to make it locally? If my only choice is a corporation, was it made in this country?

A year ago I had my friend Mary make some clothes for me, and she did a beautiful job, so I have a source for most of my clothes. And seriously, how many more clothes do I need? We can also shop at garage sales. You know who gets 100% of the money you spend at a garage sale. Thrift stores may support a good cause, and again, one person's trash is another person's treasure, so you may find what you need there.

I certainly don't have all the answers, but I'm hoping to start a conversation on how we can all decrease our dependence on corporations that don't care about anything other than their bottom line. So, rather than occupying Wall Street, I think we need to desert it and start to occupy our own backyards. Taking control of your food is one way you can declare your independence. (I spent 270 pages talking about how to do that in Homegrown and Handmade, so I won't get into the details here.) Start a garden, get a few hens for eggs, or plant a couple of fruit trees. Barter if you have an apple tree and your friend has extra eggs from his or her backyard hens. Dust off your knitting needles or sewing machine. Rediscover or teach yourself woodworking. And stop watching 2.4 hours (or more) of television every day where advertisers will just convince you that you need to buy more stuff from them! I know this is only the beginning and would love to hear your ideas on how we can all become more self-reliant and declare our independence from Wall Street!

What else can we do? A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What's the first thing (or the next thing) you can do?

Friday, October 14, 2011

What's up?

Although the massive garden harvest of summer is long gone, we are starting to eat mustard greens and Swiss chard from the winter garden, and my arugula and mache have sprouted. I need to transplant broccoli plants that I started in the basement a month ago, and I'm still waiting for lettuce to germinate, but I know it will. My one-year-old broccoli plants in the garden have been reinvigorated by this cool weather and are growing like weeds! Broccoli is an annual, but I wonder how long it will continue to produce if we keep cutting the tops off. We'll get low tunnels and row covers on everything before it gets too cold, so we'll be able to continue to harvest through the winter like last year.

And this is a picture of Milton (Shakespeare's brother). These are the only pictures I've taken in the past week. Someone wants to buy one of the boys, so I finally got a few photos to send her. She still couldn't decide which one she wants, so she's going to come see them in person in a couple of weeks. I'm keeping one for myself because Sherri is their mother, and if you've been around the blog long, you know I love Sherri. But I haven't been able to decide which one I want to keep, so I told the buyer that she can have her pick of the two.

I really hate the fact that I don't have time to post on here as much as I would like. Saturday (tomorrow) I have a book signing in Champaign, IL, and then I'm heading to Michigan for a week of speaking, book signings, and interviews, as well as the American Dairy Goat Association Conference. I'll post on the Homegrown and Handmade site about all of the exciting things I learn. Then I'll be heading to Wisconsin and Kansas and finally getting home again a week before Thanksgiving. Mike and the two-legged kids will be taking care of the farm and animals while I'm gone.

If you want to check out my complete schedule, click here. If you live in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Kansas, I hope you'll be able to make it to one of the events. I'd love to meet you! And if you're an XM or Sirius listener, I'm currently scheduled to be on Martha Stewart Radio Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 3 p.m. eastern time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Twin doelings again!

Two nights ago, I checked Alexandria's tail ligaments, and they were soft enough that I went looking for my baby monitor. We got it hooked up before going to bed, and the dear doe was kind enough to let us have a good night's sleep. But shortly before eight, we heard something that got Mike out there rather quickly. But then he came back in and said that she appeared to be fine. Half an hour later, however, I asked him to go check on her again because I kept hearing bleating. He didn't come back this time.

"There is a long string of mucous hanging out, and she's pushing," he said over the baby monitor.

I got dressed and headed out. Alexandria did not look terribly happy when I arrived, although she didn't seem quite as freaked out as most first fresheners. She kept pushing, but we didn't see anything other than mucous. Mike asked if I'd like some coffee, and I said that would be great.

A few minutes after he left, Alexandria started to sound and look more serious. She stopped bleating, but when she pushed, you could hear this low sound down deep in her throat. I looked at her back end, and it was starting to bulge, but I didn't see a hoof. A few more pushes, and I saw a black nose. Although a hoof would be perfect, a nose is okay. And there was a tongue sticking out of the side of the mouth. After the head was completely out, there was a hoof next to the neck. The rest of the kid's body slid out easily. I moved it to a towel next to Alexandria's head, and I started to wipe it off. I lifted the hind leg and didn't see any testicles, so assumed it was a girl.

Mike walked in with my coffee, and I said, "We have a girl!" We were both quite happy about that because two doelings were already reserved out of this kidding. As soon as Mike handed me the coffee, I realized Alexandria was pushing again -- while still licking the first kid! Talk about multi-tasking! I took a quick sip of coffee and grabbed a dry towel. This kid was a textbook presentation with two hooves sticking out, then a nose. It was born quickly, and I put it next to the other kid. Mike said he saw testicles, but when I lifted the hind leg, I didn't see any. I lifted the tail, and it was definitely a doe. After the dreadful buck-doe ratio we had in the spring (29-19), I could hardly believe our luck had changed so much, so I double-checked the first kid, and yep, it was really a doe.

In a few minutes, both doelings were trying to stand on wobbly legs. They were bumping their noses all over Alexandria and screaming, "feed me!" (That's a loose translation.) But Alexandria was not standing up. Her belly didn't look terribly small yet, so I wasn't sure if there was another kid inside, but after ten or fifteen minutes, she finally stood up, and the kids were looking for breakfast. Alexandria did have me a bit worried initially because every time a kid latched on, she would start to walk, effectively pulling the teat out of the kid's mouth. She was fine with me milking her, so we put some grain in front of her, hoping that would distract her enough that the doelings could get a decent meal. She was not terribly patient, so the kids were getting small snacks. I kept an eye on her for most of the day to make sure the babies were indeed getting enough to eat, and within a few hours, she had calmed down and figured out that she needed to stand still while they nursed.

They're doing great today, so it is time to commence spoiling! I've spent so much time with the babies that were born last month that they are ridiculously friendly. Whenever I go near them, they start jumping on me until I pick them up for cuddling. It sure is fun to have only a couple of kids a month so I can spend lots of individual time with each one.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Time for more kids!

Alexandria is due any day now. She'll be at day 145 on Friday, so she could give birth anytime between now and next Wednesday or Thursday. I've only had two does go to day 151. In honor of her impending motherhood, I've decided to give away an autographed copy of Homegrown and Handmade, which will be in stores in the next week or so. It's already available on Amazon and

Here's the deal --

  • In the comment section of the blog (HERE, not on Facebook), post the date you think she will give birth.
  • If more than one person guesses the correct date, the first tie-breaker is number of kids.
  • If more than one person guesses the correct date and number of kids, the second tie-breaker will be genders of kids.

So, tell me the date you think Alexandria will kid, as well as the number of kids, and the gender of the kids! You can post your guess until midnight central time Saturday, but only one guess per person. I'll let everyone know as soon as the blessed event occurs!

Good luck!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Update on Pegasus eye injury

Back when I was rushing around a couple weeks ago, Pegasus had the nerve to injure his eye, which necessitated my taking him down to the University of Illinois vet clinic, which is a day-long trip for me, which I really did not have time to do! But goats do not understand about human plans and schedules and such things, so I had to make time to take care of Pegasus.

I had initially feared the worst, expecting them to tell me that he'd need eye surgery for thousands of dollars to restore his sight, but it turned out to be far simpler than that. He had only damaged his eyelid. His vision was fine. I could hardly believe it when the vet showed me this tiny little divot in the skin of his upper eyelid. That tiny little thing was causing so much swelling? His eyelid was so swollen, it had pretty much turned inside out because it had nowhere else to go.

No doubt lover boy had injured the eyelid as he slammed against the livestock panel fencing that separates him from Draco, another buck. Every time either buck had a date with a doe, both of them would slam their heads against the fence to butt heads with each other and show off their machismo.

The vet instructed the student to make three tiny incisions in the swollen part of the eyelid, and they they went back and forth three or four times rinsing the eye and putting sugar on it. Yes, table sugar! Apparently it is good for reducing swelling, and I saw the eyelid going down in size while we were there. It was really amazing. They gave us some antibiotic ointment for the eye and sent us home. I had to leave for Pennsylvania the next morning, but Katherine took good care of Pegasus while I was gone, and when I got home, his eye was back to normal. This was the third time I'd taken Pegasus to U of I this year, and I really hope it's the last.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Highlights from the fair

What fair? The Mother Earth News Fair, of course! Last weekend, I was in Seven Springs, PA, talking about "Why Homegrown and Handmade," as well as "The Natural Home Dairy," and I was signing copies of Homegrown and Handmade, hot off the press.

I was not able to attend nearly as many of the sessions as I had hoped, but here are a few highlights --

L to R: Me, Joel Salatin, and Pat Foreman, author of City Chicks
I finally got to see Joel Salatin in person. I walked into the speaker's lounge and recognized his voice the moment I heard it. I looked around and saw him standing at check in, talking on his cell phone. Like a teenage rock-star groupie, I grabbed my cell phone and hurried over to him to ask if I could get a quick photo with him. It was the only time all weekend that I thought about taking a picture of anyone, including myself. I was able to make it to one of his talks. Seeing him in person was fun. I've read so much about him and watched so many interviews with him that I "know" Joel pretty well. But I'm still looking forward to reading his newest book, Folks, This Ain't Normal, which will hit bookstores in the next week or two.

Another highlight for me was meeting Gianaclis Caldwell, who runs an off-grid, Nigerian dwarf goat dairy in Oregon. She is the author of The Farmstead Creamery Advisor and is working on a second book on cheese making. I wish we could have talked more, but hopefully our paths will cross again soon.

The Mother Earth News people put me in a condo for the weekend, which I shared with Aquaponic Gardening author Sylvia Bernstein. Aquaponics is a hydroponic system for growing your own fish and greens. I am really looking forward to reading her book because I've wanted to grow our own fish for several years, but there was not a book on the topic for me to learn more, and I didn't have the time to search through all the info scattered across the Internet. I can't believe I didn't think about getting a picture of Sylvia, but I did get a shot of the beautiful view we had from the condo kitchen.

I was able to see most of the bread presentation by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It was fun seeing Jeff make a pizza crust without a rolling pin, -- he flipped it in the air -- and I really appreciated what he had to say about using diet to deal with medical issues. He talked about eating flax seeds to cure a shoulder injury. (Sorry I forgot the amount!) After only three weeks, the pain in his shoulder, which had been there for three years, went away. He said that there is no risk in trying something like flax seeds to see if it can help you, whereas he used to prescribe medications that sometimes have life-threatening side effects. (He is an MD.)

And I caught the tail end of Jenna Woginrich's keynote. She's the author of Made From Scratch, which is part-memoir, part-how-to on her move to the country. I love her can-do attitude, and she ended her speech saying, "When the sheep knock you down, get back up!" Jenna and I squeezed in a very quick, very late lunch at nearly 3:00 as we were rushing between speaking engagements, book signings, and sessions we wanted to watch.

If you haven't made it to a Mother Earth News Fair yet, I highly recommend it. There are about a dozen speakers from which to choose every hour, and there are more vendors than I could estimate. They will be returning again next year to Puyallup, WA (near Seattle) and Seven Springs, PA (near Pittsburgh). They are also considering a third event, perhaps in the Midwest, but they're having a hard time finding a venue that can meet all of their needs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cows and goats and PowerPoint

I should be working on my PowerPoint for the Mother Earth News Fair this weekend, but life has turned into quite the unexpected mess. And yes, I should be working on it now, but I haven't blogged in a week, and I'm not going to be able to write anything on here for the next few days, so I figured I'd let you all know what's been happening.

Yesterday I discovered that Pegasus, one of my ND bucks had a big problem with one of his eyes. At first I thought his eyeball was missing because I could only see pink tissue. But after closer inspection, I realized the eyeball was still in there, but you couldn't see it because the eyelid was so swollen. So, I called the university vet school. The man on the phone said someone would call me back in 15 minutes. So, I started working on one of my PowerPoints for the MEN Fair, and before I knew it, several hours had passed, and it was well past 5 p.m. when the vet school was closed. They have an emergency number, though, so I called back. An ophthalmologist talked to me and told me that it would be $300 for Pegasus to be seen! I was speechless. Normally the vet school is very reasonable.

So this morning, I started to call other vets to see if one of them could see him. The first one had a message saying she was out of town. The next one was busy. Then the phone rang. Our neighbor said our cows were in their yard, so Katherine and I ran out to get them. We brought them home but noticed that our bull was not with them. Katherine looked through our pastures and couldn't find him. Driving up and down the roads looking for him would have been a waste of time because it is very wooded around here, and he was probably deep in the woods where we would never see him from the road.

Then I got a phone call from the vet clinic. It was the technician that I normally speak with, and she said that the ophthalmologist was mistaken. It would be a normal office visit for the vet school, and the ophthalmologist consult would only be $35. Thank goodness she had heard about my phone call. Unfortunately, it was too late to bring in Pegasus today because it is a two-hour drive, so he has an appointment for tomorrow.

Then the intercom for the front gate ding-donged. It was a farmer from around the corner and a mile away. He said that our bull was in his barn. I was relieved to know where he was, but then the farmer started to complain that our cows were getting out "all the time," and he has 70 head of cattle, and "they never get out." Our bull has wound up in his barn twice, but he was also upset that another neighbor assumed our cattle belonged to him and had called him when our cattle got out a couple weeks ago. So, apparently once in March and two times in the last couple weeks is "all the time." But I had to really remember everything my mother ever said about being nice before I responded to his statement that his cattle "never get out." Before we put up a fence across our front yard, I found his cattle in my garden more than once. And I don't even know how many times I've called his brother to tell him that his cattle were in the road. I didn't even think about getting mad at him when someone called me and thought that his loose cattle were mine. I just said, nope, my cattle are in the pasture -- and I even called them to let them know that their cattle were loose.

I had always assumed that they didn't want their cattle running all over the county, and figured they'd realize I prefer mine stay home also. I don't understand why some people get so nasty about animals getting out. I certainly don't want my animals running all over the place. I appreciate it when people tell me they're out because I want them home where they'll be safe. Being mean to me isn't going to do anything to improve my fencing or my psychic ability to figure out how they're going to get out next. The problem is actually not the fencing. It's the creek. We had cattle before, and they never got out by walking down the creek bed or anywhere near there. Both times the cattle have gotten out before, we added additional fencing to the space where they got out, but then they go somewhere else next time. I didn't even attempt to figure out where they got out today because we're not putting them on the back twenty again.

One reason I wanted cattle is because they could utilize the pasture across the creek. Coyotes are thick back in there, so it's not safe for sheep and goats, even with the llamas. But this is not working with the cattle. I'm not happy about the idea of feeding them hay through another winter because they eat a lot. We ran out of hay the first winter we had them, which was not fun. Hay in February costs a lot more than hay during the summer because the sellers know you're desperate.

So, the cattle are now for sale. I already talked to one very clueless man who was interested in one of the cows. He mentioned breeding them to Scottish highlands or lowline Angus, and I immediately saw my sweet cows dieing trying to give birth to huge calves. So, scratch him off the list unless he educates himself a lot about Dexters, which are the smallest breed of cattle in the country. If the bull and the two calves don't sell within the next month or two, we'll turn them into beef and veal. If I have to feed hay to the two cows over the winter, I will.

As for how our day ended -- We had a fun time bringing Jaxon home. He was a mile from home, and the sun was going down. It was only Katherine and me at home, and the farmer made it clear he wasn't helping, which is fine. When Jaxon showed up at their place in March, his brother gave him a ride home in his trailer. Katherine and I took a lead rope and a pan of alfalfa cubes and hopped in the truck to drive over to the man's farm. We walked right up to Jaxon in the barn and started hand-feeding him the alfalfa cubes, and Katherine snapped the lead rope onto his collar. He walked out of the barn like a well-trained dog. I followed in the truck with my foot on the brake the whole time. I felt like I was driving in a parade, but watching Jaxon's back end for all that time, I started mentally drawing lines on him, figuring out how many roasts, steaks, and so on we'd get from him. The walk home went very well for the first half mile. Then Jaxon decided to start running, and Katherine dropped the lead rope. She runs for fun though, so she was able to keep up with him as he headed into the woods for a short while. The two re-emerged on the road a minute later with Katherine running closely behind him. Of course, the main thing on my mind was that if I had been home alone (like I will be in a year or two), I would not have been able to get him home by myself. I suppose that's why I started thinking about beef.

Now I have a PowerPoint to put together, and I have to take Pegasus to the vet clinic tomorrow, which will be a long day. Somewhere I need to get some sleep. I went to bed after midnight last night and woke up at 5:30 this morning and couldn't fall back asleep, worrying about Pegasus. Friday morning, I'm leaving for Pennsylvania and the Mother Earth News Fair. If you're there, be sure to say hi!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The annual panic post

If you've been around for awhile, you know that I generally panic this time of year. Husband-professor Mike is back at school, and the three now-adult children are all in college. Margaret will be graduating from University of Illinois this December. Katherine, my baby, is editor of her community college newspaper this year, and favorite son Jonathan is in theater and has already been cast in a play this semester. That leaves me home seven days a week to milk goats, make cheese, harvest vegetables, can, freeze, and deal with whatever emergency happens to be happening around here, which seems to be coyote related lately. Most days, I have one additional person here to help, and I hate to sound ungrateful, but that's not usually enough.

In past years, I've also freaked out about the fact that we still didn't get drain tiles in the ground around the house and barn, which means that we'll have to deal with continued flooding at random times. And no, we didn't get the drain tiles in this summer either. And the potting shed still is not done, although Mike did buy the lumber, so we are one step ahead of previous years. Maybe my dining room won't be taken over by seedlings next spring. And we got nothing done on the house -- you know, the one in which we live, the one we started building seven years ago. So we're still living with no tile around the master bathtub, few baseboards, and an open staircase. Someday this will be a beautiful house.

But this year, I have new things to add to my panic list -- I have a book coming out in a couple weeks, which means I'll be doing lots of speaking and book signings. So, I have speeches to write and Power Points to create. If you're in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Kansas, be sure to check out the events that are already scheduled there, as well as Illinois, where I live.

I also have to write my second book, which is due January 15. And I started two new blogs, which is one reason I don't post here quite as often. I've already introduced you to the Homegrown and Handmade blog, which is a supplement to the book and contains recipes and information on growing your own food and fiber. But I also decided to start a writer's blog -- a blog where I write about writing.

Does it surprise you to know that I've been thinking about selling the Irish dexter cattle and most of the Shetland sheep? I just haven't worked up the nerve to actually post any ads. Part of me keeps saying, what if it's a mistake? I'm not sure how it could be a mistake to reduce my workload around here, but fear of making a mistake paralyzes a lot of people.

Now the sun is low enough in the sky to be shining into the window next to my computer. It's my cue that it's time for evening chores.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Twin doelings for Agnes

Agnes was at day 143 today, and goats normally give birth between 145 and 150 days. I had even checked her tail ligaments last night, and they were still obviously firm. Her udder was filling up, but it hadn't changed much in the last couple weeks, so I really didn't expect to see kids before the weekend. So, it should not surprise you to hear that I had no idea what Katherine was talking about when she ran into the house this morning and gleefully yelled, "Babies!"


"Babies!" she said happily with a bit of "duh" in her tone.

Then it sort of clicked, and I asked, "Agnes?"

Yes, Agnes had given birth to two lovely little doelings in the pasture. So, Katherine went running back out there to retrieve mom and babies and put them into their own private pen so they could have the time and space to get to know each other.

I could sit out there and watch them all day, but I have tomatoes to freeze, a book to write, and feta to make.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How does your garden grow?

Ours is growing quite well!

We have tequila sunrise peppers . . .
which are sweet, but every now and then you think it might be a little hot. Definitely different. I love to slice them in ringlets and put them on pizza. Beautiful!

and cayenne peppers . . .
which are hot! Duh! Most of these will be dried, but we do use them fresh while we have them. This is where the bottles of "red pepper" in the spice aisle come from.

and Amana orange tomatoes . . .
which is an heirloom variety that you can't find in any store. They're delicious, especially in tomato soup!

And the tomato plants that look like they're on steroids! (But it's just composted goat manure!)

We even have melons this year!
which is very unusual for Illinois because we have such a short growing season! That's Orangeglo Watermelon on the left, Charantais in the middle, and Banana Melon on the right.

How is your garden doing?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie review: Farmageddon

It sounds so absurd that everyone who hears about it assumes there must be more to the story. A family in Ohio is held at gunpoint for hours because they run a natural food buying club. After three raids, a California goat farmer sells all of her goats for fear of losing them. After a year of quarantine, a Vermont dairy loses all of its sheep -- not to a disease or a bear or a common thief, but to the same bully that held the Ohio family at gunpoint and harassed the California farmer -- the U. S. government. No, there were no illegal drugs. There were no illegal guns. There was nothing illicit, yet these law-abiding citizens were treated exactly as if they were producing and selling deadly street drugs to children. What were these people doing that caused SWAT teams to descend upon their farms and point loaded weapons at their children? They were selling raw milk. Yes, raw milk.

Saturday, Mike, Margaret, and I went to Chicago to see the documentary Farmageddon, which is about the government's harassment of farmers who sell raw milk. I had heard most of the stories before, but I always had a few lingering questions in the back of my head, and this movie answered them and gave me lots more information. Throughout the movie we meet farmers who are intelligent, articulate, and educated -- two of them have PhDs -- and we learn over and over again that the FDA and USDA harassed them without cause. No one died. No one even got sick. There were no lab test results indicating that someone might get sick. There was simply a bureaucrat who decided that another small farm needed to be shut down. Since 1970, 88 percent of America's dairy farms have disappeared, and they have been replaced by corporate-owned factory farms.

Since this harassment started, farmers have been getting smarter and started connecting over the Internet to share their experiences and advice. Unlike the sheep farmers who naively complied with the USDA's demands a decade ago, thinking that they could work through the system -- only to have the USDA take their sheep and kill them ten days before their hearing in a court of law -- today's farmers are fighting back, taking videos and pictures of the raids and calling friends and customers to serve as witnesses to the raids. Filmmaker Kristin Canty used a lot of this footage in the movie so that we could see exactly what is happening. It is scary and shocking and infuriating.

It is scary to me as a person with milk goats who sells a small amount of milk legally in my state. It is shocking to me as a person who believes that justice will prevail. And it is infuriating to me as a tax-paying citizen that literally millions of dollars has been spent on surveillance of innocent farmers who are merely trying to make a living doing what they love and what they believe in.

No one is saying that all milk should be raw or that pasteurization should be abandoned. They are merely saying that as free people, we should be allowed to choose. As one woman says in the movie, she could have legally smoked cigarettes every day when she pregnant and no one would have tried to stop her, but she can't buy raw milk in her state. Why do some states make raw milk illegal when it is perfectly legal for corporations to sell us edible food-like substances with ingredient lists that read like chemical formulas rather than recipes? They say it is because raw milk can make people sick, but that's like saying the sky is blue. ANY food can make you sick if it is improperly handled, including pasteurized milk. In the last few years, people have died from eating tainted spinach, green onions, peanuts, and most recently, strawberries! And no one was arrested in those cases. The reality is that milk produced in a factory farm needs to be pasteurized, but that's a discussion for another day.

Yours truly (left) with filmmaker Kristin Canty (right)
We attended a special showing of the film at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago that started with a meet-n-greet prior to the film screening. We were lucky enough to meet Canty and talk to her about why she decided to make the movie. I knew this was her debut film, but the amazing thing is that she had no experience or education in film making. She was "just a mom" of four children, one who had very bad allergies, and when she started buying raw milk, her son's allergies disappeared. When she learned about the harassment of raw milk farmers, she told friends about it, but no one believed her. Everyone said there must be drugs or guns involved or something besides milk. Then she started writing letters to film makers, telling them they should make a movie, but this was when Food, Inc had just come out, and everyone was telling her that the world wasn't ready for another food movie. So, Canty decided to make the film herself because it was a story that had to be told.

In the Q&A after the movie, Canty said that although the movie is in limited release, some key people are seeing it, and it looks like it will be showing on Capitol Hill soon. She also heard through the grapevine that Big Ag is planning to start spending millions to fight the negative images presented about factory farming in movies like Food, Inc and Farmageddon. So this is what it's all about -- money. Rather than improving their practices and their own farms, which would result in a healthier planet, healthier animals, healthier food, and healthier people, they are planning to throw a few million at marketing in an attempt to convince consumers to continue buying their products.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jaxon and Bridget's BIG adventure!

From the moment the neighbor called to say that our cattle were on his property around the corner, I knew I did not have a good plan for getting them home. They were apparently in his orchard, which is probably only a quarter mile as the crow flies (over the creek and through the woods), but traveling on the roads, it is a mile away. After we arrived at his place, he showed us where they were. Jaxon wears a collar, and I had brought a lead rope to attach. For Bridget, I had brought a two-gallon stainless steel pot with alfalfa cubes in it to lure her back. The pot was demoted to barnware after it sprang a leak during maple syrup season.

It became obvious fairly quickly that this was going to be a long ordeal. Jaxon didn't want to walk on the lead rope, and Bridget was only somewhat interested in the alfalfa cubes. And did I mention that her calf was also with them? I assumed he would follow the grown-ups. The neighbor said that his tenant had told him there was also a brown cow, but we couldn't see her anywhere.

Bridget is the cow with the big horns, and the whole time I was walking backwards down the neighbor's quarter mile driveway with an alfalfa cube in my hand, I kept hearing blogpal Miss Effie saying, "Girlfriend, did you see those horns?" I hear ya, Miss Eff, I see those horns, and I am so happy that the stainless steel pot was demoted to the barn because I think it is about as wide as Bridget's horns are long. Mind you, Bridget is as sweet as a cow can be, but if she were to get overly excited and come running and not be able to stop quickly enough . . . well, then I start hearing the voice of that hen in the animated movie, Chicken Run. "I saw me life flash before me eyes!" So, I made sure the pot was always between me and Bridget, just to be safe.

When we finally got to the road, I ran back up the driveway to get my car and drive it out to the road. It had become obvious that it would take both Jonathan and me to get everyone home. I drove the car a little past Jonathan and the cattle and pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and got out to help him move everyone a little farther down the road. When Bridget saw her reflection in my car, she didn't want to walk past it, but I finally coaxed her around it. And Jaxon kept stopping, so I would get behind him and push his back end while Jonathan pulled on the lead rope.

Things went fairly well until we got to the neighbor's house on the corner. I don't know what was so enticing about their yard, but Bridget kept trying to go into their backyard. Although I managed to stop her from doing that, we did wind up cutting through their front yard. As we began heading down our road towards home, I suggested Jonathan go get my car. I took Jaxon's lead rope, and Jonathan took off running. I turned my back towards Jaxon, and leaned foward, putting all my weight into dragging him down the road. It went well. It's going too well, I thought. No, no, I argued with myself. Jaxon is just getting better at walking on lead. But with me focusing on Jaxon, Bridget started to wander off into the ditch and then behind weeds that were taller than she was. I called her name several times, but she was nowhere to be seen. Jaxon was trucking along at the best speed of our entire jaunt, so I did not want to stop. But I didn't feel like I had much choice. I had to find Bridget and get her back on track. I tied Jaxon's lead rope to a fence post on the side of the road and went running into the weeds to find Bridget just as Jonathan showed up. Then I realized that Bridget was going to a pond. Who knew when she last had a drink of water, so she was obviously thirsty. I told Jonathan to take Jaxon and head down the road with him.

Everything gets a little fuzzy at this point. There was lots of running, and I kept hearing that hen from Chicken Run! "I saw me life flash before me eyes!" I saw Jaxon come bolting out of the woods a few hundreds yards from where he was supposed to be. Then I see Jonathan still hanging on to the other end of the lead rope, running behind Jaxon. I started making that horrible noise -- you know the one that makes bystanders ask, "Are you laughing or crying?" Amazingly Jonathan got Jaxon under control again, but a few minutes later, the whole scene was repeated in reverse. Jaxon ran into the woods with Jonathan behind him. I realized that I didn't have my cell phone to call for help, and I would never be able to get Jonathan out of the woods if he got injured. Then I saw Jaxon come running out of the woods again with Jonathan still in tow. By the time Jonathan got Jaxon under control, we were so far from the road, it would have been a huge waste of time to go back the way we came. Jonathan, who had just been dragged through the woods three times, said that there was a four-wheeler trail that led straight to the road, so we agreed that he'd take the cows through there, and I'd go back to the car and drive it forward a bit more.

After driving the car past the other end of the trail, I walked back to the opening in the trees and waited for Jonathan and the cattle. After a few minutes, I called his name, and he yelled back, "I'm coming." I knew we had to come up with a new plan. Bridget was stuffed with alfalfa cubes, so they weren't working any longer, and she was only mildly interested in following Jaxon. I told Jonathan that next time we walked past the car, I would get in and drive very slowly behind him and hopefully that would push the cows to continue walking. We were within spitting distance of our western property line, but we were still about a tenth of a mile from the nearest gate, and across the road was a field full of soybeans and then corn. How would we ever get Bridget out of there? Then I realized that she has never had grain, and it is an acquired taste. So, if we're lucky, she'll just keep walking, I thought. Although Bridget kept walking, Jaxon stopped twice, so I had to get out of the car and push him to get him going again.

Finally, we could see our driveway ahead. I pushed the button to open the gate, and Jonathan led Jaxon through, and then after briefly hesitating, Bridget went through, and her calf followed. I pulled my car into the driveway and stopped as I waited for the gate to close -- just in case anyone had any second thoughts and turned around to head back out onto the road.

We still had to get everyone into a secure pasture, and I suddenly got the brilliant idea to use fly spray to make them move. It's just soapy water, but I think the cows hate the "psht" sound it makes when I spray. So I went and got my spray bottle and stood behind Jaxon. When Jonathan pulled on the lead rope, I started spraying, and Jaxon started walking. It worked brilliantly. We had to get them through the barn to get to the pasture, and as we were taking Jaxon through, Bridget came into the front of the barn. I went back and slipped behind her and started spraying and she started trotting through the barn. Worked like a charm.

The whole time we were heading towards home, we kept thinking about Molly. Where was she, and how would we find her, and how would we get her home? As soon as we had Jaxon, Bridget, and the calf in the pasture, we heard a moo coming from across the creek. It sounded close so Jonathan went to check it out, and it was Molly with her calf.

So, I can now say that the whole thing ended with no injuries to human or cattle, and we got an hour and a half of good exercise. I have no idea how they escaped because Mike just walked the fenceline yesterday and pronounced it perfectly sound. One thing that kept going through my head again and again was, what would I have done if I had been home alone?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

 I knew it was going to happen. It had to happen. We had to split up James and Julia after she had her piglets because we don't want her to get pregnant again too soon. James was being the most awesome father. When you looked out there, you were as likely to see the piglets with him as with Julia. But then a couple days ago, I looked out there and saw James with his nose to Julia's back end following her wherever she went. Not good. My original thought was that we would move James to the sheep pasture, but then I realized that no one was in the pasture next to Julia and the piglets, so I thought it might be nicer for him to be next door, so to speak. And if the piglets really want to visit, they can.

Piglets, already getting muddy like mama!

Katherine took a bucket of whey out to the pasture, and as soon as James saw the bucket, he came running because he loves whey. He followed her through the gate into the neighboring pasture. She put down the bucket, and he was happily slurping up the whey as she left the pasture and closed the gate behind her. That was two days ago.

You can see the path James has worn next to the fence.

Yesterday, I seriously thought James was going to kill all of the grass along the fence in his pasture as he paced back and forth all day long -- and I was right. He wouldn't even go to the water trough, and by early afternoon, he was pacing with his mouth hanging open. So, Katherine went out there and convinced him to go to the water trough and have a drink. But he is still spending most of his day next to the fence looking longingly at Julia and the piglets. At chore time last night, the babies all jumped up as if on cue and ran over to the fence where James was laying, and I swear I could hear little voices saying, "Come on, Daddy, let's play!"

Julia, covered in mud, as usual

So, as sad as it is to break up this happy little family, I really don't want piglets born in December or January or February, so James will simply have to accept this new living arrangement. I just hope my fencing is up to the challenge!

Friday, August 12, 2011


This morning, I am taking our summer intern to the airport. Michael has been here for the past nine weeks, and it's hard to believe how fast the summer has flown! It seems like yesterday when he arrived. He has been helping out with a variety of things around the farm, but his favorite activity has been milking the la mancha dairy goats. He arrived already knowing how to milk because he spent last summer on a farm milking sheep. His daily chores included taking care of the goats -- filling hay feeders and water buckets, mucking out stalls, and whatever else the goats needed. He also washed the sheep and llama fleeces and helped out in the garden from time to time.

When Margaret decided she wanted backyard chickens, he helped her build a movable chicken coop that I blogged about in Homegrown & Handmade, and he helped Mike build our newest turkey tractor, which I still need to blog about.

Talking to Michael gives me hope for the future as he is an agricultural student who is interested in organics! While he was here, I introduced him to the documentaries Fresh and Food Inc, as well as Michael Pollan books, The Stockman Grass Farmer, and Joel Salatin's farming philosophy. It has been a great nine weeks, and we are all sad to say good bye!

This is an especially challenging post to write because I'm trying to avoid turning it into my annual "freak out" post -- you know the one where I panic about how it's crunch time because we have so much left to do, and there is so little time left to do it before winter. You'll probably be reading that post in a week or two though. On Monday, the other Michael (my husband) goes back to work, and the following Monday, classes start for Jonathan and Katherine at the junior college.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

All-you-can-eat goat buffet

We moved the does into a new browsing area today. Technically, goats are not grazers. If given the choice, they prefer to browse, which means to eat leaves, bushes, and young trees. So this hillside is their idea of a five-star gourmet restaurant!

Amelia Earhart, a polled, blue-eyed doeling born this spring
It is easy to see why goats are rented to clear hillsides that are overgrown. They love this stuff!

Girlfriend, a mini mancha doeling
The more experience we get with rotational grazing, the more brave we get. We used to only put the goats on flat land. But now we put them in a lot of places overgrown with brush.

Miss Kitty, named after the Gunsmoke character,
is developing the sassy personality of her namesake.
One reason goats are not as resilient against internal parasites as sheep and cattle is because they didn't evolve eating grass off the ground where the parasite larvae can be ingested. They've gone through history eating from trees. As one person said, goats should never eat below their knees.

Sherri, eight years old and our most valued brood doe

Skippy, the other earless wonder (mini mancha)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


As I was laying in bed last night around 8:30, trying to convince myself that no one's head ever really exploded from a migraine, my son Jonathan burst into the bedroom panting and blurted out, "Piglets! In the chicken house! Four or five are already nursing, and I think I saw another one pop out!" He said something about getting a towel to wipe off a couple that seemed especially dirty, and he was gone again.

Of all the hours she could have given birth, she waited until I was incapable of being there. Talk about rotten luck! A bit later I got reports from daughter Katherine, who couldn't stop squealing about how cute they were, and husband Mike, who told me he tried to take a video but it was too dark in the chicken house at sundown. Both asked if it was okay that some of the piglets had a white foot or two -- and it is. Being one of the oldest and rarest hog breeds in the U.S., guinea hogs don't have a lot of strict rules about appearance, although the majority of guinea hogs are solid black today.

This morning, in spite of a lingering headache, I got myself out there to check out the new additions. Julia had followed Mike to her own little house when he went into the chicken house this morning. None of the babies followed, so Mike put them all in a box and took them to the pig's area. Piglets remind me more of human babies than any other livestock the way that they nurse until they fall asleep, and then if they accidentally fall off the teat, they wake up immediately and start looking for it again!

The final count was nine babies -- four girls and five boys. Unfortunately, two of the girls (gilts) were dead this morning, just laying there peacefully near their mama without a sign of anything wrong. One of the other little girls is not the most clued-in about nursing, so I'm wondering if her sisters had a little trouble also getting the hang of it. While six of the piglets were nursing this morning, she was hanging out in the little house, so we took her out several times and kept putting her back on the teat. Although the nine piglets were in a variety of sizes, there wasn't a real runt in the litter, so that's a good thing.

Because the guinea hogs are an endangered breed, we'll be keeping the girls for breeding as long as they don't show any undesirable traits. Some of the boys will wind up as pork, but a couple of the nicer ones will probably be sold for breeding.

About the piglet prognostication give-away -- not a single person chose August 2! But two people guessed August 3, and that was Penny and Miss Effie. Penny said ten piglets, and Miss Effie said six, so Penny is the winner of the goat milk soap. Drop me an email Penny (deborah at antiquity oaks), and I'll get your soap in the mail right away! Thanks to everyone for your guesses!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Where did the recipes go?

In case you're wondering when I'll post more recipes, I am now posting all of them on the Homegrown & Handmade blog. I just posted a recipe for bread pudding, and last month I posted a recipe for strawberry jam. In May I shared my recipes for chocolate truffles and multigrain bread that's light and fluffy. If you don't want to miss any of the upcoming recipes, be sure to "follow" the Homegrown & Handmade blog or subscribe by email. In the next few months, I'll be posting recipes for cucumber goat cheese spread, spiced pear butter, and pumpkin spice cookies, just to name a few!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Piglet prognostication (give-away time!)

As I was agonizing today over when Julia Child was going to finally have her piglets, I realized that there was no need for me to suffer alone when I have all of you! We saw her get bred in the middle of March, so we've been thinking "any day now" ever since the first week of July. Obviously, she did not get pregnant when we saw her get bred. But since James has been with her the whole time, he must have done the deed again when we did not see it. So, it is a bit of a guess now. Due dates are never engraved in stone, but I do like to have it narrowed down to something a little better than a whole month. Anyway, enough of my complaining! To get my mind off of this, I've decided to give away three bars of my goat milk soap, so all of you can be in on the fun of waiting for Julia's piglets. If you want to try your hand at piglet prognostication, just answer the following questions:

  1. What date will Julia have her piglets?
  2. How many piglets will she have?
  3. What will be the male-female breakdown?

The first question is the most important, so everyone who gets that one right will move on to the semi-finals. If you get the number of piglets correct, then we'll have to use the male-female numbers to determine the winner. Basically, the best prognosticator wins! Put your answers in the comment section HERE on the blog (not on Facebook), and only one guess per person, please. You can post your guesses up until she actually farrows, whenever that may be! And I will be sure to put up a post on the blog with pictures as soon as the blessed event occurs.

To help you figure out when she will farrow (that's birthing in pig lingo), I've included a few photos of the expectant mother. She's a little muddy because she had just crawled out of the pond to have a snack when I decided to take these photos. Yes, she has a mouthful of weeds in two pictures. She loves weeds!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heat wave

It seems that our temperatures and humidity are finally coming down from record-breaking highs for the past week -- and when I say coming down, I mean into the mid 90s. A temperature of 90-anything seemed hot before living through this past week, but we actually appreciate 90s after going above 100 degrees with a dewpoint in the 80s, which basically makes it dangerously hot because your sweat can't evaporate, so it doesn't do much to cool your body.

We've been getting up at 6 a.m. to do as many chores as possible while the temperature is in the 80s. Contrary to popular belief, living on a farm does not automatically make you a morning person, and we don't normally head out to do chores before eight. I am not good about getting to bed before 11, and the lack of sleep is starting to make me drag. I need my eight hours!

The animals have been drinking far more than normal, so we have to keep refilling water buckets and troughs almost twice as often as normal. We have seen a drop in milk and egg production. I can just hear the hens saying, "You think I want to sit in one of those hot nest boxes? No way!"

Every morning when I get out of bed, I expect to see piglets, but Julia just keeps getting bigger and bigger. If she had gotten pregnant when we saw her get bred, she would have had the piglets by now, so she must have gotten pregnant at a later breeding that we did not see. Still, considering how huge she is, I can't imagine she will go much longer. She spends almost all of her time laying in the pond. I hope she has some instinct that tells her she needs to be on dry land to give birth. Although piglets can walk as soon as they're born, I can't imagine they're very good swimmers.

For the past week, when I look at the ten-day forecast, it shows temperatures in the 90s for the next five days. Now it shows temperatures in the 90s for the next week, with one day in the 80s. Maybe the weather forecasters are feeling sorry for us and throwing that 85 in there to give us some hope, even though it is not going to happen. At this point, I don't trust anything they say beyond tomorrow.

We finally broke down on the second 100+ day and put an air conditioner in the living room window. We did a good job of keeping the house in the 80s by closing all the windows and blinds, but mold started growing in the oddest places because of the humidity -- bags of flour, my oatmeal soap, an upholstered dining room chair, the leather part of my spinning wheel, the bamboo knitting needles that hold an afghan I'm making, and more. If the heat, humidity, and mold continue, we may need to put in an air conditioner in the basement and upstairs. We have a dehumidifier for the basement, but we don't use it in the summer because it exhausts heat, which is the last thing we want right now!

I'll remember 2011 weather for many years to come. We had our coldest goat kidding ever when Jo gave birth at -8 F. We had a blizzard in early February with drifts six feet deep, and then it all melted two weeks later as we went into a four-week maple syrup season, which requires warm days with freezing nights. And now, we're having a record-breaking heat wave. I wonder which way the weather will swing in fall. Personally, I think we've broken enough weather records for one year, and I'd like to request a textbook "average" fall.


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